“I heard some people talk about Iceland in a student kitchen in London one night. That is the first time that I can ever remember hearing about it, which is mind-blowing to me. How can I never have seen anything about this place before 2013? That’s so strange.” Photographer Benjamin Hardman is incredulous as we chat at a Reykjavík café. That fateful night in London, this former accounting and finance student from Australia started googling Iceland, and the morning after, he booked a flight. “The first trip was like an introduction. It was April: it was raining, it was brown, I thought I would see the northern lights, but I didn’t. I did see a glacier for the first time.”
An Inside the Volcano tour to Þríhnúkagígur had some unexpected consequences. “It was such a cool thing to do. They had a photo competition where the prize was a free trip to Iceland. I spent hours editing this one photo, sent it in, and ended up winning the competition. That’s how I came back.” Benjamin has often wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn’t won the competition, but after returning in December that same year, there was no going back. “I just really fell in love with the landscape. After about six trips, I realised I couldn’t be anywhere else. I started to get very emotional when I was leaving so I had to find a way to come back to stay. “That way was to register at the University of Iceland to study Icelandic. “I didn’t know anything about the language or Iceland, in general, when I moved here. I only knew the landscape, so it was a massive culture shock!” He says with a laugh. “This language, it’s so hard to learn. Insanely hard!”
Iceland and Australia are worlds apart, in distance and in climate, but Benjamin still found a similar mentality in Iceland as in his home country. “Both are island nations, even though our island is way bigger than yours,” he smiles. “There’s a relaxed vibe.” While studying and working at Kex Hostel, Benjamin met some people who were ready to help him get to know the country better. He found that Icelanders were proud of their country and its nature. It can be hard to make a connection with Icelanders at first, he says, “but once you are in, you are very in!”
Benjamin spent all his free time travelling around the country taking photos, and he got to know a large group of people who shared his passion for Icelandic nature. The mountains are where he feels most at home. “Because I’m so keen on being in the mountains and the places that I like are usually very difficult to get to, I mostly hang out with mountain guides. I feel like if I didn’t have a camera, that would be something I would do myself.” The photographer soon started garnering attention on social media with his personal take on landscape photography. He now has over 600,000 followers on Instagram, where he puts Iceland’s nature in the spotlight. “I have a very devoted audience, and the cool thing about it is they are all really interested in Iceland and seem to love Iceland’s cold, crazy climate.”
Benjamin is constantly on the move. “This year has been extreme. I’ve travelled and taken more photographs than I’ve been able to edit.” This winter, he’s giving himself some time to work on his backlog, but it’s hard to sit still, as the winter light is his favourite light to work with. “I have to force myself to have balance because the pictures won’t edit themselves.” To him, November and April are the least-interesting months to take photos in Iceland, but as soon as it starts to snow properly, he’s off. “In September and October, you have the autumn transition, which is so short, and I feel like it’s a crazy, beautiful, vibrant time of year that really is rarely shown. To see the landscape in this short period of transition is incredibly beautiful. Then in February and March you have the ultimate winter, which is the prime time for my photos. Places like Fjallabak in the highlands where you have these beautiful geothermal mountains. They are known for their colour, but for me, what’s most fascinating is their form. In winter, when they are completely covered in snow, you focus more on the form rather than the colour. I’ve been heavily focused for the last year on the Arctic and Iceland in the winter setting so I’ve pretty much been away from colour for a whole year,” he says smiling. “I haven’t exactly been running away from colour, it’s just that I’ve naturally been in environments that are very unsaturated.”
This article is an excerpt from Iceland Review Magazine.
Iceland Review is the longest-running English-language magazine, presenting Iceland’s community, culture, and nature since 1963.